An Irish prayer song for the new year

An Irish prayer song for the new year
Hill of Slane, Ireland, where ruins of a Francescan monastery remain on the site of an earlier monastery founded by St Erc, a follower of St Patrick

Christ Be With Me
Words: St Patrick, trans. Cecil F. Alexander
Music: Incorporating SLANE, Michael S. Bryson

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ to fill me and fulfill me,
Christ be always my all in all.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

It is a tradition for choirs to present an offertory anthem during worship. At the TRAC 47th Session Ordination and Closing Service on 24 November 2022, the designated offertory anthem was “Christ Be With Me”.

The anthem combines two ancient Irish texts. It begins with “Christ Be With Me”, an excerpt from a long prayer named “St Patrick’s Breastplate” attributed to St Patrick (c. 385-461), Ireland’s patron saint. The song pivots to “Be Thou My Vision”, a poem (Rop tú mo Baile) written by a monk named Dallan Forgaill around three centuries later to honour the faith of St Patrick.1

Legend has it that in the 5th century, St Patrick recited the breastplate as a prayer for protection. King Laoghaire of Tara, a pagan Irish King, made a decree that fire could be lit on the Hill of Slane only after a pagan festival had begun. He did this to prevent St Patrick and his followers from reaching Tara to proclaim the Christian faith. However, St Patrick defied the king’s decree and lit the Paschal fire (Easter light) even before the pagans could do their ritual. The king was so impressed by St Patrick’s devotion that instead of executing him, the king allowed him to continue his missionary work.

These two long poems were translated to English, versified and are now included in most hymnals. “Be Thou My Vision” is the more popular one.2

Lay or ordained, we can sing or recite “Christ Be With Me” as a prayer not just for protection but to seek the Lord in our goings in and out, on our good and not-so-good days. If the tune is too difficult, we could perhaps combine lines from the two poems to greet each new day:

Christ be with me, before me, behind me
Be my vision, O Lord,
and be always my all in all.

Could this short prayer be our premise for the new year? May St Patrick’s confidence in lighting the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane inspire us to be bold in our faith.

1 Raymond F. Glover, ed. The Hymnal 1982 Companion, (New York, NY: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994).

2 https://hymnary.org/text/be_thou_my_vision_o_lord_of_my_heart

Judith Laoyan-Mosomos is the Director for Worship & Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.